By Bohdan Klid, Canadian Institute of Ukrainian Studies (CIUS)
Toronto, Canada, December 12, 2003
As part of worldwide efforts to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the
1932-33 famine in Ukraine, the Canadian Institute of Ukrainian Studies
(CIUS) decided to make important new research and resources on the tragedy
more widely known to the scholarly and wider communities in North America.
This was done by organizing and co-sponsoring a series of lectures by three
Ukrainian scholars-Drs. Yuri Shapoval, Hennadii Boriak and Olexiy Haran-at
several scholarly and community events in Edmonton, Winnipeg and Toronto.
Dr. Shapoval is affiliated with the Institute of Political and
Ethnonational Studies of the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine in
Kyiv. Dr. Boriak is director general of the State Committee of Archives of
Ukraine, which oversees the entire complex of Ukraine's archival
institutions. Dr. Haran is with the Political Science Department and School
for Policy Analysis at the University of the Kyiv Mohyla Academy.
The first in the series of lectures took place on November 11 at the
University of Toronto, co-sponsored by CIUS (Toronto Office) and the Petro
Jacyk Program for the Study of Ukraine at the Centre for Russian and East
European Studies. In his talk "Tragic Pages of Ukrainian History and the
Current Political Struggle: Debates Over the 1933 Famine," Dr. Olexiy Haran
focused on the different interpretations of the famine among Ukraine's
political groupings. He traced how the 1932-33 famine first became a part of
public political discourse in the late perestroika period, and then in the
1990s was officially recognized by the Kravchuk and Kuchma regimes.
Photo by ArtUkraine.com Information Service (ARTUIS)
(Click on image to enlarge it)
Recently, on March 6, 2003, the Verkhovna Rada declared the famine a
genocide and voted to bring the issue to the United Nations, and on May 24
issued a special declaration on the man-made famine. While the former
received the support of 287 deputies, the latter was approved by only 226,
barely a majority. The Communist Party abstained during both votes, but no
deputies opposed the motions as it would have been political suicide to do
so, according to Dr. Haran. He also concluded that president Kuchma is
taking advantage of divergent views on the famine in his efforts to keep the
opposition political parties divided.
On November 16, the second CIUS-sponsored famine event took place at
the Ukrainian Youth Unity Complex in Edmonton. The commemoration,
co-sponsored by the Ukrainian Canadian Congress, Edmonton Branch, featured
talks by Drs. Yurii Shapoval and Olexiy Haran. Dr. Shapoval's talk focused
on new archival findings in Ukraine and their importance in interpreting the
nature of the famine. Dr. Haran spoke again on the way interpretations of
the 1932-33 famine impacted the current political struggle in Ukraine.
On November 21 in Toronto, Drs. Shapoval and Boriak were the main
speakers at a session of the National Convention of the American Association
for the Advancement of Slavic Studies called "New Research on the Famine of
1933." The panel, sponsored by the Shevchenko Scientific Society, was
chaired by Dr. Anna Procyk of City University of New York. Dr. Frederigo
Argentieri of John Cabot University (Italy) commented on the two
presentations. Drs. Boriak and Shapoval repeated their presentations before
a Ukrainian community audience at St. Vladimir's Institute on Sunday,
November 23. The symposium was co-sponsored by CIUS and the Ukrainian
Canadian Congress, Toronto Branch.
Dr. Boriak's talk, entitled "The Ukrainian Famine of 1933: Sources and
Source Publications," surveyed documentary publications on the famine and
other sources. Prior to 1989, major research on the famine was conducted in
the West. He marked the year 1990 as a "point of departure for the massive
unveiling" of Communist party and Soviet government documents, which had
previously been highly classified. Subsequently, more documents from party
organs and administrative bodies, as well as repressive entities, have been
published, including from regional archives.
Dr. Boriak also briefly identified the types of documents available to
researchers of the famine, organizing these by groups. In total, there are
more than 1,500 archival holdings that deal with the famine throughout
Ukraine, containing more than 200,000 files. Dr. Boriak ended his talk with
a survey of Internet resources on the famine. The State Committee of
Archives in Ukraine maintains the site "Famine in Ukraine 1932-1933"
(Holdomor v Ukraini 1932-1933), located at
http://www.archives.gov.ua/Sections/Famine/. The site contains links to
Internet resources on the Ukrainian famine.
Yuri Shapoval made a final appearance to deliver his famine lecture In
Winnipeg. His talk, sponsored by the Metropolitan Ilarion Centre for
Ukrainian Orthodox Studies, took place on November 28 at the Cathedral of
St. Mary the Protectress.
Summarized below is Dr. Shapoval's lecture, which he gave in Edmonton,
Toronto and Winnipeg. The full text (in Ukrainian) is available in the press
release section of CIUS's website: www.cius.ca. Dr. Boriak's talk will be
posted at a later date.
The title of Yuri Shapoval's talk was "The Famine of 1932-33 in
Ukraine: What Do We Know about It Today?" Dr. Shapoval began by noting that
Soviet authorities had for decades denied that a famine had even occurred.
Yet, he asked, how could a tragedy of such massive proportions, in which
millions died, have been concealed, and to what degree was the political
leadership of the USSR aware of what was happening? Further, could the
holocaust of 1932-33 been averted, and why was nothing done to prevent such
a cataclysm from occurring?
Recently, the publication of documents, especially on the activities of
the highest leadership of the USSR and on the behaviour and responses of
party officials of the Ukrainian SSR, has been particularly important in
suggesting answers to these fundamental questions, some of which are still
being debated to this day. The book Komandyry velykoho holodu (Commanders
of the Great Famine, Kyiv, 2001), which Dr. Shapoval co-authored with
Valerii Vasyliev, contains such documents.
Consisting of telegrams (including exchanges with Stalin), letters,
reports, diary entries and other materials, the documents show the roles
played by Stalin's henchmen-Viacheslav Molotov and Lazar Kaganovich-in the
extraordinary grain procurement commissions in Ukraine and the north
Caucasus. Publications of such documents, Shapoval stressed, allow
researchers to reconstruct events as well as the paradigms underlining the
thoughts of the communist chieftains. Their importance also lie in the
evidence they provide against those who would deny the unique
characteristics of the 1932-33 events or the absence of extraordinary
actions taken in this or that region of the former USSR.
A distinctive feature of Ukraine and the north Caucasus was that more
than _ of the total grain production of the former USSR came from these
regions. Although recognizing that hunger had already claimed victims there
in 1931, Stalin and the top leadership of the USSR accused Ukrainians of
hoarding vast amounts of grain, and thus increased grain procurement plans
for Ukraine. Local officials who protested or questioned the directives from
above were expelled from the communist party and treated as traitors or
80% of raion (county) level party secretaries, for instance, were
replaced in 1931-32. At the third conference of the Communist Party of
Ukraine held in the summer of 1932-attended by Molotov and
Kaganovich-attempts by local officials and some of the leadership of the
Communist Party of Ukraine to point to the difficult circumstances in the
countryside were ignored by Stalin's henchmen and the Kremlin.
In a letter to Kaganovich of August 11, 1932, Stalin expressed
suspicions about the Ukrainian peasantry and of the loyalty of the entire
Ukrainian party apparatus, which he described as dominated by followers of
Petliura and agents of the Polish leader, Jozef Pi_sudski. He expressed
fears that "Ukraine could be lost" and that it should be transformed in the
shortest time possible into "a true fortress of the USSR" and "exemplary
These Stalinist euphemisms, according to Dr. Shapoval, implied the
following actions, regardless of the number of victims: (1) squeezing out
of Ukraine the maximum amount of grain possible (justified by the need to
modernize and feed the city populace); (2) conducting a thorough purge of
all social spheres (justified by the supposed presence of latent Ukrainian
nationalists and other enemies).
On October 22, 1932, the extraordinary commission headed by Molotov
began its work in Ukraine. On October 30, 1932, in a report to Stalin, he
harshly criticized the work of the Communist Party of Ukraine and then
pressed forward with repressive actions against both the Ukrainian party and
peasantry. From November 1932 to January 1933 the extraordinary commission
squeezed an additional 90 million poods (one pood equals 36.11 lbs. or 16.38
kgs.) of grain from the Ukrainian peasants.
Special brigades composed of over 110,000 activists were sent to
Ukraine's villages, receiving as compensation a portion of the looted grain
and other foodstuffs. Lazar Kaganovich headed a similar commission in the
north Caucasus and Pavel Poshtyshev in the Volga region of Russia.
Postyshev's commission, according to Russian researchers, did not act as
viciously as Molotov's, while Kaganovich's was aimed primarily against
Ukrainians who lived in the Kuban.
Toward the end of 1932, Molotov, Kaganovich and Postyshev met with
the head of the secret police in Ukraine, Vsevolod Balytsky, to undertake
severe repressive actions, which were justified as measures to prevent the
sabotage of grain procurements. On December 5, for example, Balytsky issued
a directive to "destroy the counterrevolutionary underground and to land a
decisive blow against all counterrevolutionary kulak-Petliura elements S in
Shapoval listed the following measures taken against Ukrainian
villages: (1) fines in kind (especially meat and potatoes) levied against
individual households for not fulfilling grain procurement orders, while
higher norms were levied against entire collective farms for alleged theft
of collective farm property by individuals; (2) a prohibition of trade in
potatoes, meat and animals; (3) a prohibition of commercial products
procurement to villages (such as matches, salt and kerosene); (4) the
establishment of a food blockade of Ukraine's borders by interior ministry
troops and police (preventing peasants from fleeing the famine zones as well
as prohibiting the importation of foodstuffs from Russia into Ukraine
without special permission); (5) the institution of an internal passport
system which excluded villagers, further restricting their mobility to flee
the famine; (6) distress sales of valuables by villagers to special shops in
exchange for food. (The amount of intake in these shops increased
dramatically from 1931 to 1933.)
While the famine raged, the cover up commenced. Village councils were
ordered to not list the cause of death upon registration. All entities were
forbidden to register incidents of bloating or deaths caused by famine,
except for organs of the GPU (predecessor of the OGPU-NKVD-KGB). In 1934, a
new order was issued that all record books of vital statistics dealing with
deaths for 1932-33 were to be sent to special units of the GPU, following
which they were most likely destroyed.
On January 14, 1933, Maksim Litvinov, the Soviet foreign minister, in
response to inquiries from abroad, denied that a famine was occurring. On
February 23, 1933, the Soviet Politburo issued a directive restricting the
movement of foreign correspondents in the USSR. At the same time, the Soviet
Union was dumping grain at depressed prices on the international market to
purchase machinery for industrialization.
It is clear that Western countries knew about the Ukrainian famine. On
May 31, 1933, the Italian consul in Kharkiv wrote in his dispatch that
"famine continues to rage and destroy people, and it is simply impossible to
understand how the world can remain indifferent to this disasterS" The
Manchester Guardian, commenting on the famine on November 21, 1933, noted
that no areas of the USSR had suffered as much as Ukraine and the north
Dr. Shapoval pointed out that what further distinguished the
situation in Ukraine from that of Russia was a concurrent shift in
nationality policy in Ukraine. On December 14, 1932, Stalin and Molotov
signed a resolution on behalf of the Central Committee of the Communist
Party and Soviet government calling for the "correct implementation of
Ukrainization" in Ukraine and in regions of significant Ukrainian settlement
outside Ukraine. It also called for decisive struggle against so-called
Petliurite and other counterrevolutionary elements. Shapoval concluded that
this signaled the beginning of the end of Ukrainization policies as well as
the start of anti-Ukrainian purges.
In 1933 a purge of the party and state leadership of the Ukrainian
SSR indeed occurred and, importantly, Pavel Postyshev was appointed second
secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Ukraine.
Published documents show, Shapoval continued, how in 1933 Postyshev and his
team-some of them party officials sent from Russia-implemented the Kremlin's
policies of grain confiscations as well as the purging of so-called
At a plenum of the Communist Party of Ukraine in November 1933
Postyshev boasted that collective farms in Ukraine had now "become
bolshevik." He further linked the 1931-32 drop in grain production to
alleged mistakes of the Communist Party of Ukraine in implementing the
party's nationality policies. "There is no doubt," Postyshev concluded, "
that without liquidating mistakes in implementing the nationality policies
of the party, without destroying nationalist elements who had ensconced
themselvesS in Ukraine, it would have been impossible to have overcome the
slowdown in agriculture." The plenum approved a resolution that defined
"local nationalism united with imperialist interventionists" as the main
danger facing the party. The party thus justified the end to Ukrainization
and the massive repressions, which began in 1933 and later merged into the
1936-38 "Great Terror."
Shapoval concluded that the famine of 1933 was an effective tool in
transforming Ukraine into "an exemplary republic." Newly uncovered and
published archival documents have identified "specific anti-Ukrainian
accents" to the events. The new findings show that the extraordinary
organization of particular measures against the Ukrainian peasantry mark the
famine in Ukraine with the characteristics of a genocide.